Fuel Your Finish: What to Eat Before, During and After a Race

Welcome to the Fitness Fire Storyteller series! This week, our guest storyteller is Hailey Andrew, a Certified Personal Trainer, Nutrition Coach, Physical Therapist Assistant and running enthusiast. In this article, Hailey will give you her top nutrition tips for fueling before, during and after a race.



I have been preparing myself recently for fall trail running, 10K races, and a half marathon in January. Preparing for and recovering from a race or game day requires careful attention to nutrition to ensure you have the energy and stamina needed for peak performance and efficient recovery. Here are my top three things to focus on for healthy nutrition both before, during and after a race:

Before the Event


1. Carb Loading: In the days leading up to the race or game, focus on increasing your carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates are your body's primary source of energy during exercise. Consuming complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can help build up your glycogen stores, which provide energy during prolonged activities. Consider having a carbohydrate-rich meal 2-3 hours before the event to ensure your energy stores are topped up. The mistake too many people make is trying to carb-load the night before for the first time or right before the event. This strategy is less effective than preparing ahead of time and building up your stores. I like to eat things like chickpea protein pasta and grilled chicken alfredo, naan bread pizzas, sweet potato and steak, and for the day of, something filling but light like salmon poke bowls.  


2. Hydration: Proper hydration is crucial for optimal performance. Start hydrating well in advance of the event and continue to drink water throughout the day. Consider consuming a sports drink or electrolyte-rich beverage a few hours before the event to help maintain electrolyte balance. Electrolytes to look for when choosing a drink include sodium, magnesium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and sometimes phosphate or bicarbonates. Be mindful of your urine color; it should be pale yellow, indicating you are adequately hydrated. Drinks I recommend: LMNT packets, Body Armor (no added sugar), or simply water and eating some dates!


3. Balanced Meal: Have a balanced pre-event meal that includes carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of healthy fats. This balance can provide a steady release of energy throughout the event. Opt for easily digestible foods to prevent gastrointestinal discomfort. Examples might include a chicken and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice or a turkey and avocado sandwich on whole-grain bread.

During the Event


1. Hydration: Staying hydrated during races is important because heat-related illnesses are all too common, especially as the distance of the race increases. Make sure you have some form of hydration gels, gummies, or frequently stop at the hydration stations throughout the race to take whatever they give you! I sometimes don't feel thirsty or can't drink a lot because I won't stop, but even wetting your mouth or splashing water on yourself to cool off helps immensely.


2. Carbs are your friend. During the race, you're tapping into all your carbs, burning it quickly after about 5k or around 30 minutes. As the distance increases, you start to rely upon your fat and glycogen storage, so pre-race nutrition is key in higher-distance races. During the race, keep taking in some carbs as you feel fatigued. I like to take Gatorade from the aid stations and carry honey stinger gummies for their slower energy release thanks to the glucose and fructose and lower glycemic index level, and Sour Patch Kids for the quick sugar it gives me (plus it tastes good during a race).


3. Electrolytes are essential. Don't want to pass out? Hydration is more than just water when you're running long distances. Finding a way to infuse your water with electrolytes or drinking a sports drink that has the essential electrolytes is going to help reduce muscle fatigue and aid in mental clarity. We all know running is a mental exercise as well as physical. I like to pack my water in a CamelBak if I'm going on my trail runs alone or will need access to water periodically throughout the run. As mentioned before, I enjoy the Recovery packets by Rookie Wellness and love the pineapple coconut flavor. Find what works for you, but think about the weather and heat of the day during your run. Consider working with a nutrition coach or professional to calculate how much water you need for serious races. Aim for about 4-8 oz of water every 2-3 miles or more if it's scorching hot.


After the Event


1. Rehydrate: Rehydrate: Replenish fluids lost during the race or game by drinking water or a sports drink. It's essential to rehydrate to help with muscle recovery and prevent dehydration, which can impair your body's ability to heal. I also like to look for drinks or mixes that include BCAA's (branch chain amino acids) to help with my recovery and fatigue during and after the event. Rookie Wellness Recovery packet (https://glnk.io/wn42w/lifewithhai code HAI gets you 15% off)


2. Protein for Muscle Recovery: Protein is crucial for repairing and building muscle tissue damaged during exercise. Within 30 minutes or two hours after the event, consume a protein-rich meal or snack, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, tofu, beans, or a protein shake.


3. Carbohydrate Replenishment: Carbohydrate Replenishment: Replenish your glycogen stores by consuming carbohydrates after the event. This refueling helps with muscle recovery and prepares your body for future activities. Foods like pasta, rice, sweet potatoes, and fruits are good sources of carbohydrates.

Additional Tips


  • Consider your individual dietary needs and any food sensitivities or allergies.
  • Avoid heavy, high-fat, or greasy meals immediately before the event, as they can lead to digestive discomfort.
  • Experiment with your nutrition plan during training to determine what works best for you.
  • Stay mindful of portion sizes, and avoid overeating after the event, which can lead to digestive issues.


Remember that nutrition plays a significant role in your performance and recovery, so it's essential to plan and adjust your diet based on the specific demands of your race or game day and your individual preferences and needs. Consulting with a sports nutritionist or dietitian can provide personalized guidance for your nutrition strategy.


Here’s what my meals look like leading up to a race: (no filter)


Want more from Hailey? Check her out on Instagram @life.with.hai and @mind.body.burn, or visit her website!

Carb loadingCarbohydratesHydrationMeal prepNutritionNutrition tipsPost-run nutrition tipsPre-run nutrition tipsProteinRunning